Microsoft's Ballmer: Windows 7 slates are 'job number one'

One of the most pressing questions on investors' and shareholders' minds about Microsoft is how the company plans to respond to Apple's iPad. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reiterated at FAM that the company and its PC partners are going to have new Windows 7 slates coming to market "soon," but didn't much else about the company's plans.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

One of the most pressing questions on investors' and shareholders' minds about Microsoft is how the company plans to respond to Apple's iPad.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer didn't share anything new regarding Microsoft's plans on July 29 at the company's annual Financial Analyst Meeting, but did assure Wall Street analyst and press attendees that the Softies aren't burying their heads in the sand.

"We have a push with our hardware partners" around building slates, tablets and other new form factors running Windows 7, Ballmer said. Ballmer said this push was "Job Number 1," and told FAM attendees that "no one is sleeping at the switch" in terms of getting these new devices to market.

So where are they? They're coming "soon," Ballmer said, offering no further update. He said the exact timing will be up to the PC makers. Earlier this month, Ballmer said new Windows 7 slate/tablet devices will be out in time for Holiday 2010.

Ballmer mentioned a few times during his keynote the coming SoC Intel Atom processors, codenamed Oak Trail, that will be available to customers in early 2011, as enabling new lighter, faster slates. Oak Trail, according to Intel, delivers a 50 percent reduction in average power consumption with full HD-video playback. (Windows 7, Google's Chrome OS and the Linux-based MeeGo operating system are all expected to run on these chips.)

Ballmer didn't mention ARM at all, in spite of the fact Redmond just inked an architecture agreement with ARM. He also didn't bring up Windows Embedded Compact -- another operating system that Microsoft has been providing to slate makers for possible inclusion in new slate form factors -- or the Windows Phone 7 operating system, which a number of customers have said they'd like to see on slate/tablet devices.

Apple has "done an interesting job" with the iPad and has sold a lot more of them than Microsoft would like, Ballmer conceded. But Microsoft knows it "needs to make things happen, like we did with netbooks," he said.

Ballmer reiterated Microsoft's line that slates are just another PC form factor, and that users want choice of different price points, weight and amount of processing power.

At the technology showcase at FAM here at Microsoft headquarters, company execs are showing off a number of different PC form factors running Windows 7, but no slates running any Microsoft operating system. Execs also demonstrated Windows Live Wave 4 services at FAM, playing up how these kinds of services turn a PC into a "personal cloud." Windows Live Wave 4 services are being rolled out throughout this summer/fall.

Update: One Wall Street analyst just asked Ballmer in the Q&A session to be more precise about the company's slate plans. Ballmer said Windows will be the operating system, Intel will be the processor architecture and that's that. He said Windows Phone OS is for screens of the three-to-four-inch size, and isn't right for slates. "We'll be in the market as soon as we can," Ballmer said. "Does that mean really really soon? Really pretty soon?" All he'd say is "it ain't a long time from now."

I wish Ballmer would give us some real battery-life statistics and talk about plans (or lack thereof) to optimize the UI on these devices to be touch-first....

Update No. 2: Microsoft also disclosed today that it has three more Microsoft stores coming: One in Bellevue, Wash; one in Minneapolis (in the Mall of America); and one just outside Chicago (Oak Brook, Ill.).

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